In nature's hands

Feature member Nicole with her sons Hugh and Julian.
Feature member Nicole with her sons Hugh and Julian. 

I was 28 and expecting my second child. All was well with the pregnancy and we were very excited to be adding to our family. Our first born son Hugh was two years old and we couldn’t wait to give him a sibling. My pregnancy with Hugh was textbook;  better even. Not one problem. I didn’t have any pregnancy complaints and although overdue and born by emergency caesarean section, he was healthy and perfect.

So we were shocked when we went to our 20 week scan. At the scan various checks were done and all seemed ok. It was getting late and my partner Luke had to pick up Hugh from childcare so announced towards the end of the scan that he was to leave. However, the ultrasound technician asked him to stay. I thought this was odd. She said if you have to go can she quickly go get the specialist as she needed to ask him something as something didn’t seem right with our baby’s lungs. Luke and I just looked at each other.

She returned with the head doctor and specialist and they spoke to each other while scanning my belly. They then explained to us what they had found. They had found a mass in our baby’s chest so large compared to his small body that it was displacing his heart to the right. This mass occupied his entire left lung which was unable to be identified. His right lung also appeared smaller than it should have been.

I didn’t know much about all this but I did know that obviously a baby needed lungs to live and breathe. I started to break down and thought the worst. I wanted to know if my baby would live and was told that “the survival rate for this is quite good but it depends on the mass and if it continues to grow”. I was also told then that an operation would need to be done and if the mass gets too big my baby may have to be born prematurely to save its life. The doctor didn’t say much else and he said I would have to go to the Foetal Medicine Unit at the hospital to find out more.

The next day was hard. I was so full of emotion and kept breaking down. I was also working that day which, in hindsight, wasn’t too bad as it did take my mind off things. But every time I felt my baby move I would break down again. Somehow I managed to keep my emotions in so I could make an appointment with the foetal medicine unit. They were fully booked for the next two months but managed to get me in the following day. This had me worried as it meant it must have been serious.

While we will never really know what happened, we believe this to be a result of Chinese medicine.

At the Foetal Medicine Unit at the Canberra Hospital more scans were done and we were told our baby appeared to have what was either a lung sequestration or CCAM (congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation) as both are quite similar. A CCAM is usually where an entire lobe of lung is replaced by a non functioning mass or abnormal lung tissue. A lung sequestration is where a piece of tissue grows into the lung and its also non-functioning and inhibits the normal growth of the lung.

We were told that throughout my pregnancy I would need regular scans to ensure the mass didn’t grow so big that it restricted the heart and caused heart failure and also to ensure that foetal hydrops didn’t develop (which is fluid in the lungs that will lead to death). We were told our baby has a good chance of survival only if the mass didn’t grow and foetal hydrops didn’t develop.

The head professor said our baby may not be able to breath on his own and may require a machine to breathe for him when born. We were told he would need an operation to remove the mass within the first day of his life. We asked the doctor if there was any chance the mass could shrink on its own as we had done some research and in some cases they had. The doctor looked at us seriously and said “I’m sorry but in your case it is VERY unlikely. The mass has an extensive amount of blood flow to it so it’s unlikely it will shrink and I’d be amazed if it does”. He said he didn’t want to offer us any false hope. I also asked if our baby would be in hospital very long, such as two weeks. The doctor almost laughed at us and said it would be more like a month or more. He also told us we were being way too optimistic about this whole thing. He was basically telling us not to be so positive and that the likely outcome wasn’t best.

I remember the above comment so clearly. How dare he. I had the right to be optimistic. This comment is also what I believe led me to take the path I did. I asked the doctor if there was anything I could do, he said all we can do is wait and watch.

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This is when I decided to take matters into my own hands. There was no way I was going to just do nothing. My poor innocent baby needed me. I didn’t want to think about how heartbreaking it would be to have a baby and leave the hospital without him or her. I also had a 2.5 year old at home to look after as well.

So I don’t know what it was or what made me one day think ‘Chinese medicine’ but something did… Fate perhaps? But I just had a moment where I thought “that’s it, I must look into this”. After a little research on the internet I found that it has helped with many ailments but I’d never heard it helping unborn babies.

I found a place in Canberra that offers Chinese medicine and acupuncture and gave them a call. I spoke to Damien and he assured me he would be able to help. I made the appointment as soon as I could get in.

The following week I met with Damien and explained my situation. He told me he had never treated an unborn baby but didn’t see how that was any different to treating anyone else. He said that to treat the baby, he must first treat me.

My appointment with Damien included a session of acupuncture and some herbal medicine I was told to take 3 times daily. The taste of this stuff was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. It was disgusting and you could smell it from a mile away. Strangely however, towards the end I started to enjoy it, to like the taste and almost crave it. I guess it’s what my body needed to heal my baby.

Damien told me to keep taking the herbs through my pregnancy and see him once a month for acupuncture treatments.

Around three or four weeks after starting treatment I was due for another scan and check up at the foetal medicine unit. I was nervous yet excited to be seeing my little one again.

During the scan the lungs and mass were checked and to the unit’s surprise and mine the mass appeared smaller. I just knew in  my heart it was the Chinese herbs that had helped. I tried not to get too excited and we were told to come back in another three to four weeks for another scan. During this time I kept thinking positive and kept taking my herbal medicine. I also visited Damien again for another acupuncture session and told him that the mass had shrunk, he was extremely happy.

My next scan was due when I was around 32-33 weeks. I was very excited to see if the mass had continued to shrink. I was positive it had. During the scan the specialist was really quiet and kept scanning all over my belly. I was beginning to worry as nothing was being said and no measurements were being taken. I asked ‘How is the mass? Has it grown?’

The lady then stopped, looked at us with total disbelief and said ‘I can’t locate the mass, it appears to have disappeared’. She called in the head doctor as she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. He too was completely amazed. He said this can sometimes happen but to be honest I really don’t think he even believed it, or in his medical career had ever seen such a thing happen.

We were told we would need to return after another few weeks for another scan to make sure the mass had completely disappeared and he next scan showed the mass had in fact done just that. As ultrasounds aren’t very clear and the baby had grown making it hard to scan we were told that our baby could still have some left over mass which would need to be checked after birth. We were told we could have a normal birth and our baby would not be rushed straight to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and if anything at all, may have needed an operation at around three months of age. This was fantastic news and for the first time in eight months I could relax and enjoy my pregnancy. This also meant my first son would be able to come to the hospital and meet his brother or sister and I’d be able to bring him/her home.

I was still getting regular acupuncture sessions and taking my herbal medicine as, to be honest, I was actually quite enjoying it now. My due date was 11 October 2008 which came and went. At nine days overdue on 20 October 2008, the doctors decided to not let me go any further and at 3.45pm Julian Dean Kennedy was born screaming his lungs out (a very good sign) by caesarean. It was the happiest moment of my life and I cried tears of sheer joy. He was 4kgs (9 pounds) and 52cm longs so very healthy.

Julian still has check ups at the hospital every few months and has had a few x-rays and all appears well and there has been no sign of the lung sequestration and mass.

Today Julian is 15 months old and just like any other toddler his age. Cheeky, curious and non stop on the go. My boy never had to undergo intensive and invasive open chest surgery. While we will never really know what happened, we believe this to be a result of Chinese medicine.  

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